One of my favorite things about working in children’s ministry is that you never know what’s going to pop out of a child’s mouth. They are the most hilarious, thoughtful, inquisitive, and incredibly kind group that I have been blessed to minister to. Their sincere and pure belief is so refreshing! As our kids move from this phase of joyful innocence into one where they begin to have questions about the things they have been taught to believe, our job as parents, teachers, and leaders is to help them find the answers they seek.
As early as 4th grade, kids are moving from concrete thinking to abstract thinking. They’re able to understand multiple perspectives and think critically. They are also capable of asking big questions, and one that I hear often is: “How do I know the Bible is true?” We must be able to address this question before we can use the Bible to answer any other questions. If our kids never have the opportunity to make these discoveries for themselves, how will they ever make their faith truly their own?
The Old Testament
Let’s start here: The Old Testament is agreed upon by jews, muslims, and christians alike. In the 1900s, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The scrolls were a thousand years older than the previous oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament (the Masoretic Texts). They confirmed that the Old Testament texts had not been significantly altered in the thousand years between when they and the Masoretic texts were written. Not to mention the fact that Jesus himself recognized the already existing Old Testament as the Word of God!
The New Testament
Argument 1: We have no original copies of the New Testament letters and Gospels.
While this is true, we don’t have original manuscripts of any other ancient work from that time period either. The time span between the New Testament’s writing and our first surviving copies is far shorter than the time span between the original writing and first existing copies of many other ancient works. Take Homer’s Iliad for example: scholars generally conclude that Iliad was first composed sometime in the 8th century BC. The first existing manuscript of the Iliad we have today is from the 10th century AD - that’s roughly 1800 years later! In comparison, the oldest copies of New Testament letters and Gospels that exist in part today are from roughly 100 years after Jesus’ death. We have a complete copy of the New Testament that dates back to within 300 years of Jesus’ time.
Argument 2: The New Testament has been copied so many times, there have been too many changes to know its original meaning.
Let me start with a history lesson: it’s important to note that in the ancient world, including the time of Jesus, ALL stories were preserved orally. In the modern world, this doesn’t work because we are not an oral culture. In ancient times, stories were very carefully passed down orally because there were no other means to preserve them. The stories of Jesus captured in the New Testament were first passed down orally before being written down. Going back to Homer’s Iliad, an epic poem produced over 1,000 years before being written, appears in perfect hexametric line - ancient storytellers were able to reproduce their stories correctly time after time in a way that still translates into poetry today.
The Gospels and letter of the New Testament were written by different people in different places at different times. We have far more existing copies of the New Testament than other ancient literature. There are over 5,500 manuscript written in the original greek. For other well known texts, such as the writings of Plato, we often have less than 10 manuscripts and claim to know the original from those alone.
The new testament documents have been inexistence for over 2000 years. For 15 of those centuries they were copied solely by hand before the invention of the printing press. In spite of that, there are only 15-20 significant textual variations in the entire New Testament - none of which affect important doctrinal matter.
Consider on the other hand the works of William Shakespeare: These writings have existed for less than four centuries and yet in every one of Shakespeare’s 37 plays, there are nearly a hundred readings still in dispute. A large number of those differences significantly affect the meaning of the passages in which they occur.
Some scholars cite around 300,000 changes have been made among all existing copies of the scriptural texts. Scholars who cite this number add up all the variances initially made by scribes, but then also include all subsequent copies, making the number inflated.
Argument 3: What external evidence exists to support the authenticity of the New Testament?
Early Christian writers from 130 AD already comment on the authors of the New Testament documents and their accuracy. This is important because, for them, this was recent history and there was a chain of witnesses from the Biblical authors to these writers. Non Christian sources from the first two centuries refer to events mentioned in the Bible. Josephus (a late 1st century historian) refers to the Bible, James, John the Baptist, and Jesus as historical figures, as does the Talmud - a Jewish composition.
Argument 4: What archaeological evidence exists to support the authenticity of the New Testament?
Archaeological discoveries have generally affirmed the reliability of the transmission of scripture over time. No archaeological finds to date flat-out contradict the Bible. On the contrary, archaeological finds have silenced many critical claims against the authenticity and reliability of biblical content.
Sir William Ramsay of Oxford University in England spent 25 years going on archaeological digs actively trying to disprove the book of Acts, which was written by the historian Luke (also the author of the Gospel of Luke). When he first began, many of the cities mentioned in Acts had no known location. Nothing was known of their history or politics. Everything that Sir William Ramsay discovered only served to reaffirm what Luke had written. He concluded: “Further study...showed that the book could bear the most minute scrutiny as an authority of the facts of the Aegean world, and that it was written with such judgement, skill, art, and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement.” (The Bearing of Recent Discovery, p.85)
When Ramsay studied Paul’s letters, most of which had been dismissed by critics as forgeries, he concluded that all thirteen New Testament letters claiming to be written by Paul were authentic.
Argument 5: What about the books that are not included in the protestant Bible?
The New Testament canon as we know it today was recognized as early as 367 AD and relied largely on how close to the time of Jesus’ life the texts were written. Eyewitness account were obviously far more likely to be accurate than later accounts. The Old Testament canon was officially recognized no later than 150 BC. If the Old Testament canon were incorrect or incomplete, Jesus likely would have had something to say about that.
The Apocrypha is a group of books that enjoyed only temporary and localized recognition but were excluded from the canon very early on because they did not meet biblical criteria and included inaccuracies, inconsistent doctrines, lack of divine characteristics, and focused on legends and folklore. A few of these include:
This is by no means an exhaustive study into the reliability of scripture, but my hope is that it gives you an idea of where to start. My prayer for each child and youth at Charity is that they would know their faith beyond a shadow of a doubt, for Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I pray they always remember that faith is not wishing, but a expectation with certainty based on knowledge and evidence.
Below, you will find many resource links that will enable you to continue this conversation at home. In particular, the first youtube link specifically talks about the transmission of the New Testament in a way that is easy for young minds to follow.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfeI3pSoKRk&t=1019s (Watch from 12:38 - 16:47)
https://www.youtube.com/user/Acts17Apologetics (Acts 17 Apologetics)
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCepxnLs6GWAxAyI8m2U9s7A (NQ Ministries)
https://parable.com/product/827000 (Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi)
https://parable.com/product/758879 (No God But One, Nabeel Qureshi)
https://parable.com/product/758850 (The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel)
https://parable.com/product/379576 (The Case for Christ for Kids, Lee Strobel)
https://parable.com/product/608463 (The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel)
https://parable.com/product/421852 (Sticky Faith, Kara Powell)
https://www.amazon.com/Can-Ask-That-Questions-Curriculum/dp/0991488008/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=i+can+ask+that&qid=1553183768&s=gateway&sr=8-1 (Can I Ask That? Leader Guide, Sticky Faith Curriculum)
https://www.amazon.com/Can-Ask-That-Questions-Curriculum/dp/0991488024/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=i+can+ask+that&qid=1553183820&s=gateway&sr=8-3 (Can I Ask That? 2 Leader Guide, Sticky Faith Curriculum)
https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/ (The Fuller Institute)
https://crossexamined.org/50-recommended-apologetics-resources-for-christian-parents/ (50 Apologetics Resources for Christian Parents)
https://www.lcmc.net/ (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ)
Please also feel free to reach out to your pastors and church leaders!
By Pastor Sam Coleman
As I’m writing this newsletter article I am looking outside my office window here at Charity at the new snow we received last night. The Ponderosa pine trees are covered with it, and even the harshness of the needles are softened by the beautiful snow resting on them. It’s amazing that even on these frigid days of winter here in the tundra (Sarah’s not-so-loving reference to North Dakota), there is spectacular beauty surrounding us if we are willing to stop and appreciate it.
I think about how often life can be encapsulated by even the simplest moments. There is the beauty of the newly fallen snow mixed with the harshness of -10, -20, or even -30 degrees below 0. This morning at sunrise, the snow became beautiful shades of blue and yellow and was breathtaking, but it took 20 minutes for my car to even become comfortably warm. I have to say that I love the beauty of winter but hate the cold.
A life lesson in this is that everything in life has its good and bad. I don’t think there is even the possibility of it all being good or all bad in this life. It’s always a mixture. The real question is in what we choose to focus on in the midst of the good and bad. Often a sad reality is that it is easier to focus on the negative to the detriment of the good.
Pastor Terry Sletto mentioned this in a sermon recently as he shared about meeting a woman that was so focused on the cold of winter and possibly the negatives in her life that there was palpable darkness surrounding her. He tried to cheer her, but she wasn’t able to receive the hope he offered. I think we’ve all been there at different times in our life and God knows our propensity to focus on the negative instead of the positive, so he gives us this command in His Word: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and just, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” - Philippians 4:8
This verse is a challenge to each of us to make a choice. We can focus on the things that are true, just, right, and the list goes on, or we can focus on lies, injustice, wrong, and the list goes on with that as well. And our focus not only determines our attitudes and perspective on life but also the effect that we have on the people around us and ultimately for eternity.
And this is also a command because as followers of Christ we have the most excellent example of what is true, just, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise.
We have Jesus.
We can have hope in the midst of sadness, pain, death, sin, and all the things gone wrong with us and the world because the winter of this world will end and spring will be sprung when the Son returns in all His warmth, love, justice, and splendor. Choose to focus on that.